The Bright New Face of Educational Leadership – Eric Sheninger

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro

Eric Sheninger is the principal of New Milford High School (New Jersey). But he’s more than that. Much, much more. He’s a shining example of the new face of leadership. In “Building Momentum” (A Principal’s Reflections, 8.6.10), he shares his thoughts on what it means to be an educational leader in the 21st century.

The one factor that differentiates Sheninger from the vast majority of his colleagues is that he has personally stepped into the virtual world to envision the future of education. He says, “I stress the fact that this phenomenon [social media] is not going away and is a major component in the lives of today’s society.” This perspective from rather than into social networks is unique, and the insights that it provides challenge mainstream thought.

Here are a few excerpts from his article:

“As educational leaders we should be modeling, supporting, and collaborating with our respective staffs to create a vibrant school culture that fosters risk-taking and innovation.”

“I have now become an advocate of empowering educators to effectively integrate technology combined with best instructional practices.”

“It is depressing when I look around in my own state and others and notice the lack of an administrative presence in the world of social media and other areas of educational technology leadership for that matter.”

“I have so much to learn about educational leadership and facilitating sustainable change. What better way to learn than from experienced leaders in the trenches that can share their knowledge, strategies, successes, and failures?”

Sheninger lists “five facets of social media that truly assist educational leaders to become more effective and efficient, and the first is “Communication: Effective communication is one of the most important characteristics associated with successful leaders. Social media provides free tools to enhance public relations, celebrate student/staff accomplishments, and keep all stakeholders informed 24/7. Blogging is one of the best tools available to aid in communication.”

Third is “Professional Development/Growth: Educators now have access to relevant, meaningful resources that are available as needed. We can now connect with experts in a variety of fields of study, pick their brains, strategize, and receive feedback like never before. The best of all is that we can do this from our office, home, or on the go with mobile devices during times that are convenient for us.”

Fifth is “Collaboration: This is such an exciting time to be in education as we now have the ability to connect on a global scale. This not only does wonders for our own learning but also really sets the stage for developing authentic experiences for our students.”

4 Responses

  1. Jim:

    Thank you for the kind words in your post.

  2. Eric, you’re welcome. Your clarity of vision and ability to explain complex ideas and issues in logical, down-to-earth terms is a shot in the arm for the increasing numbers of educational leaders who are setting out on their own journeys into the largely unknown world of virtual social media. Words and insights from a colleague who is actually comfortable and productive in that new frontier are a godsend. Leaders play a critical role in the change process, and the collaborative, experience-based model you’re advocating is best practice. Thank you for sharing your light. Best, Jim

  3. […] This post was Twitted by NMHS_Principal […]

  4. I think there is a reason that not many administrators become leaders in the use of technology in education–they don’t have time to keep up with the dizzying changes that are taking place in that area.

    When I was first involved with technology while in the Instructional Services division of my school district, I was often jokingly referred to as “our computer geek.” What a laugh! I was an instructional theory specialist who was forced down a road to the use of technology through a series of accidents in my assignments. I saw the potential of online education and tried to be a leader in having that potential realized, but I was no technology geek, and I was embarrassed by my lack of knowledge when put in the presence of those who really knew how this stuff worked.

    Even today I am more of an instructor who tries to figure out how to use technology effectively than someone on the cutting edge of technology. I do not tweet. When I first learned of Twitter and learned how much time my colleagues were devoting to it, I thought, “How on Earth do they get anything done?” I am sometimes overwhelmed by the knowledge my colleagues on ETC demonstrate–and I am envious.

    Despite this, I was, and I still am, eons ahead of most leaders I have met in the school systems. Back when I tried to talk about the potential of online education to the district leaders, you could see their eyes glaze over immediately, and I knew not a word I was saying was getting through. People of my age may remember the old commercials for Colgate, in which Gardol, the “invisible shield,” protected one’s teeth from decay. It was like that–as soon as technology was mentioned, the Gardol invisible shield protected them from unwanted knowledge.

    When our school district years ago first went to using an email system as the primary means of district-wide communication, we used a First Class system, which meant that we could see when our messages were received and what happened to them. We in central administration were told that the only way we could communicate with principals was via this system. I was placed in charge of an innovative project that required me to communicate with all the teachers in the school district, and I was required to do this by sending the information to the principals via email for distribution. Since I was able to see what happened to my messages, I could see that one third of the 150 principals in the district never opened any of them.

    We used to joke that if you absolutely needed to communicate with a principal, you had to follow these steps:

    1. Send an email.

    2. Send a follow up email.

    3. Schedule a meeting with the principal so that you could show him or her how to open the email.

    4. While you are there, print out a copy of that email for reading.

    Of course, that was just over a decade ago, so I am sure things have changed since then, but I am sure the overall concept holds true. School leaders frequently have so many items on the plate requiring so much time that they have to create a filter to eliminate that which is not needed, and all too often technology is part of that filter. Too many rely on someone they have identified as a technologist to tell them what to think, and too often that technologist is giving unreliable information. Unable to tell that what they are sharing is not reliable because they lack the competence to judge it, they follow that unreliable advice blindly.

    I don’t have the energy or commitment or time to be on the forefront of the rapid changes in technology, and I suspect that if someone like me, someone who is supposed to be a leader in this area, feels that way, then I am pretty sure that quite a few administrators with far, far less motivation than I feel that away as well. Without the knowledge it takes to see the potential for technology to change education, they cannot act as leaders for those changes.

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